Sunday, 10 May 2009

That pig cull


The Egyptian government ordered a cull of all pigs. Western popular opinion sees it as an attack on the Christian minority. That perception indicates more the Western mindset than reality.

The cull

A day or two after the appearance of 'swine flu', the Egyptian government announced it was slaughtering all 300,000 pigs in the country. Initially, it said the measure was a public safety measure. Egypt had suffered about 25 deaths from bird flu, and the government didn't want to be caught out again.

Within about 48 hours, international expert opinion began to come to a consensus that a cull is not necessary, that once the flu has spread to humans, it is more likely to continue spreading via humans, not via pigs. Indeed, there seemed to be an opinion that the mere idea of flu transferring from pig to man is laughable, which it isn't - it is possible.

The Egyptian government came out with a revised opinion: this measure isn't about avoiding swine flu only, it's also about restructuring pig rearing in Egypt. Pigs are not bred in farms in Egypt, instead they tend to be hemmed in with garbage and left to do what they like. These dumps-with-pigs tend to be inside Cairo, surrounded by not far from dense human quarters, in the illegitimate slums known as "ashwa'eyyat" ('randomites', 'vagarites').

This Economist article does a good job of succintly explaining some aspects of the rubbish-and-pigs set-up.

British hypocrisy

I can't say I've conducted a comprehensive survey of British opinion via the media, internet and street opinion, but it was very interesting to me that the story was given an immediate Christian-Muslim angle. "The pigs are reared by Christians, eaten by Christians, thus when the (Muslim-dominated) government orders a cull of pigs, this is clearly aimed at the Chrstians, it's a subtle form of persecution, it's Islamist opinion getting strident and using a health-scare to score 'told-you-so' points. After all, the Muslims don't eat pork because they believe it to be unclean, and so Muslims can now gloat about their religion's wisdom and have an excuse to kill off all pigs."

I live in the UK, so I'll take aim now at British hypocrisy. For a country that culled cows - when there was the mad cow disease scare, a country that undertook an equivalent of a holocaust in the history of sheep (killing almost ALL sheep in the UK) - because of foot-and-mouth disease, I found this particular strand of British opinion to be shameless. So those Egyptians are backward, unscientific, driven by medieval religiousity, but we Brits, we took things slowly, one step at a time, and only escalated to a complete cull when we had no choice. I see.

Same outcome! Human beings kill animals at will: If it comes down to: us or the animals, light up the furnaces.

And let me just follow the logic here: we do NOT want to kill animals in a mass-slaughter fashion because ... ?? We want to fatten them up, and hela-hopp, slaughter them when the market needs them.

It's the synchronised killing that's the problem here. If we could just stagger the process, mix-it-up a little, not have them all scream at the same time, that'd be fine. Spread it out. Maybe Mondays and Tuesdays, and the fourth Thursday of every month. That's all we're talking about here, y'know what I mean?

'Egyptian style'

Incredibly, this is now exactly the Egyptian government's policy. It will spread the cull out over the next several months.

Egyptians have this instinctive understanding (sometimes) of how to stroke other people's egos. Okay, so you're offended because pigs have got nothing to do with spreading the flu? Oh, well, erm, it was an overdue, much-needed restructuring of pig rearing. You guys still not happy? Okay, we'll spread it out, we won't have a bloodbath, promise. Happy? Tell you what, we'll financially compensate the rubbish collectors, and parade a bunch of doctors wearing masks and holding giant injection needles in front of the world's cameras - that should reassure you. Still, no? Okay, get a female lead doctor, let the leader of the medical operation be a woman, and let her talk about all the _humane_ precautions the team's taking. Get all men out of the camera frame, repeat, leave the uncovered, decent-looking, well-qualified female lead to take the full shot. Thank you.

What, still not happy!

PS. Vegeterianism is the solution.

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MuleKist / ErthMa said...

I am not sure where I read it now, but the article stated that the confiscated pigs in Egypt would be slaughtered and so the authorities would not have to reimburse the owners for the taking of their property, the authorities said that they would be returning the butchered (and diseased?) meat to the owners. Imagine that! I wonder if that is the way the big pig kill is playing out over there?

Ahmed said...

The last I heard, they _will_ compensate.

The meat would not be 'diseased' because (a) they would presumably identify if the animal was infected first, (b) authorities all around the world have said it's okay to eat pig products because the disease cannot spread that way.

avantcaire said...

coupe of points:

the christian / muslim angle is the primary prism that the egyptian media seems to be looking at this story through as well btw.

part of the reaction is to do with the govt's disinenuous initial reasoning of it having to do with swine-flu as opposed to opportunistic restructuring that the govt has been aiming for some time.

the comparison with mad cow disease and foot an mouth is unfair too i think. mad cow disease can be passed on to humans by eating the beef and there was a foot and mouth epidemic in the uk - both cases needed immediate action to salvage the respective industries and i am guessing the farmers were fairly compensated.

Ahmed said...


I'm typing this again from memory because I must have done something wrong first time round, or blogger's screwing me up.

Anyway ...

Main points:

1. I agree. The government's decision seemed to be policy on the hoof. Improvised policy. Cull now, think later. Would have liked to be at that meeting: Hatem el Gebeily (Health minister) and his advisers.

2. If egyptian media is now looking at the issue from the muslim/christian angle, I think that's because of the initial western reaction to the decision.

There's a pattern: muslims get incensed that western media accuse them of intolerance, and christians relish the embarrassment of muslims.

3. I would love to know exactly what the christian position is on pig meat. I remember several christian friends telling me they don't eat it and consider it an unclean animal. There's an argument that the jewish restriction also applies to christians. But I guess not all christians adhere to that interpretation.

If you look at the UK defra site, you find that there are 5m pigs in the UK - for a 50m population. One pig for every 10 citizens approx. Plus the UK imports about as much pig meat from abroad. So, let's just say 1 pig for every five citizens is the overall consumption rate. In egypt, there are approx 300k pigs for an approx 6m christian population. I am not aware that egypt imports pig meat. The ratio is thus one pig for every twenty christian citizens. Which goes to show my point: christian consumption of pig meat in egypt is very low anyway.

4. I simply cannot see how any group of people can say to another: "our cull policy is better than yours". Whether you HAD TO CULL, or not, the fact of the matter is you're actually rearing these animals to kill them.

Ahmed said...

I should add that the position some muslims take on swine flu is ignorant and stupid. There is no case for us to gloat here. The flu virus is constantly evolving. There was a strain that was first carried by birds, then it evolved into a strain that humans can carry too. Now we have another strain that first managed to find itself a home among pigs, and then evolve into a human-carriable form. And so on. We don't know what or where the next-evolution carrier will be.

I do not eat pig, because I think it is an unclean animal, and whatever miniscule parts I've eaten of it, I've found unpleasant, but trying to find a "sign" in swine flu - as some muslims seem to be doing - is stupid.